Last year, I happened to catch King Crimson playing at one of the local venues, a place called 12th & Porter. As someone who bought the band's first album,In the Court of the Crimson King, in 1969, I never realized that, when I moved to Nashville seven years ago, I would have ample opportunities to see them play in town. But it turns out that Crimson lead singer and guitarist Adrian Belew lives on the town's outskirts. The last time I saw them play was in 1972, warming up for Foghat during their Lark's Tongues in Aspic tour. Now that was a bizarre billing!
When I was recently informed that King Crimson was going to be recording in town at The Tracking Room, I made it a point to touch base with Belew and producer Machine about making the album. I caught up with the two at Belew's home studio, StudioBelew, where they were doing various instrumental and vocal overdubs for what will be a full-length album and an EP on the Sanctuary label.
“Robert [Fripp] and I have been writing the music for this for over two years. It is more guitar riff-type music. I can't describe what we are doing now other than to say it's kind of a heavy metal rock band kind of approach. We've turned into a rock band,” Belew says with a laugh. “Someone came up with a name for this type of music, and that is ‘nuovo metal.’ Don't ask me where it came from, but it might be the title of the record.”
Of course, expecting King Crimson to do a run-of-the-mill-sounding rock album or EP is just about incomprehensible. For starters, the title track of the EP, “Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With,” is predominately performed in 11/8, as is another song called “Facts of Life.” “I was just getting comfortable with playing fives and sevens, and we skipped all the way to 11,” muses Belew. “What happened to nine?”
A number of the songs performed the night I saw them last year were new compositions being tested out, including the wildly dynamic, bolero-like show opener called “Dangerous Curves,” another instrumental called “Electric” and a track called “Response to Stimuli,” which morphed into “Facts of Life.”
“We did our basic tracks over at The Tracking Room,” says Machine. “It is a very good studio, and they have all of these really creative, great-sounding rooms. They have this Rock Room and this very John Bonham-sounding wood room, and the main room sounded very good, too. We had all of the outboard gear we could've possibly ever needed and an 9000 SSL.”
During the sessions at The Tracking Room, Machine had “40 inputs all at once when tracking basics. Pat [Mastelotto, drummer] had nearly 30 just by himself with all of his acoustic and electronics. This isn't even counting all of the other little breakbeat kits and African world music-type drums he had set up in the various other rooms sprawled all over Emerald Studios.”
For further overdubs, the band worked at Belew's home facility, which houses a Neotek Elan 48-channel console, 32 tracks of ADAT and a Mac G4.
“Adrian has a great home studio with big windows and a large garden right outside,” says Machine. “I've got my stuff in here, and I'm going through RADAR for my A/D that goes Lightpipe into ADAT Bridges to my Pro Tools drive with Logic as my front end. I've always been a Logic guy since I was a kid. From a song perspective, Logic is perfect for songwriters. It looks like a song, it is linear like a song. As a sequencer, it is the ultimate.
“All guitars were recorded with their clean DI for the purpose of re-amping and sound designing for later,” Machine continues. “I use the PCP Box by Little Labs for my guitar splitting and re-amping. From here, I'm flying out to Pat's [Mastelotto] three-car garage with my Logic and sequencer, and we are going to be editing and stacking all sorts of drums and adding other samples and beat boxes. After we go through it all with a fine-tooth comb, we'll come back here and mix at Emerald on their SSL 4000.”
While Machine and I were talking about what he used for the sessions, he enthusiastically shared his latest speaker discovery, NHT Monitors.
“I heard these monitors in Australia and was blown away with them,” he recalls. “It has been a while since I found a speaker that is as great as these are. They don't over-glorify or hype the sound like some other speakers. You really can picture the image and it is a really tight image. When I listen to mixes of people I admire, like Andy Wallace or Tom Lord-Alge, their work sounds great on NS-10s. I will admit that things that sound good on an NS-10 usually translate well to other speaker systems, but I just can't start my mixes with NS-10s. For me, these NHTs are the ultimate solution. They actually translate perfectly with NS-10s. You can start your mix on them without being annoyed, and when you flip to the NS-10s later on, they make the NS-10s actually sound good.”
When I remarked to Belew that King Crimson is one of the few bands who started in the '60s and is still pushing the boundaries and creating engaging new music, he stated, “Our fans expect us to constantly move into new territories. Even though there is a thread through it all that is undeniably King Crimson — and you can tell a King Crimson song pretty quickly [laughs] — we have made a lot of changes from record to record. I think that is one of the things that keep me really happy in the band. You have to come up with things that you haven't previously done.”
Send your Nashville news toMrBlurge@aol.com.